Icebreaker

Raising The Barre



She has danced for the Pope and a prince (Charles) and performed with The Royal Ballet of London and New York City Ballet. Her students go on to renowned dance companies throughout the United States and Europe. Petite, disciplined, and the consummate professional, Valerie Mahabir has a keen eye for innate talent, yet she nurtures the gifts of all students, regardless of their age or ability.

“All children should have the same training,” says Mahabir, who holds a ballet teaching degree from London’s Royal Academy of Dancing and has been instructing Coachella Valley youth since 1990. “Whether they have the talent or not, they are trained as professionals.”

Approximately 200 students per month attend classes at Mahabir’s Academy of Ballet and the Performing Arts — a striking, concrete and glass, 2,100-square-foot performing arts complex designed by her husband, architect Narendra Patel. The structure has two spacious studios, state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, and a retractable sliding glass pocket door in the main studio to accommodate an outdoor seating venue for performances.

Mahabir and her top-flight instructors offerbroad dance and movement instruction to children and adults — classical ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, musical theater, ballroom dancing, and even yoga.  The academy is also a licensed studio for Music Together, an early childhood development program that emphasizes music and movement.

The seemingly indefatigable Mahabir, who survived breast cancer five years ago, also founded and serves as artistic director of Desert Youth Ballet and teaches ballet at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage. And she has choreographed several ballet recitals — including Cinderella, La Boutique Fantastique, and The Seasons — at venues throughout the valley.

Mahabir believes anybody can benefit from instruction in performance arts, particularly ballet, even if a professional dance career is not the objective. She recommends ballet training to enhance athletes’ performance in any sport; she teaches ballet to figure skaters, gymnasts, skiers, and even a young tennis player whose ranking soared after a series of private lessons.

How do other students benefit? “They develop self-esteem, grace, discipline, appreciation of music, stance, camaraderie with other kids — and [dance] is great for the body. What more can you want?” Mahabir says. 

This summer, the academy will offer a ballet camp designed to help children hone their bodies, realize their fullest potential, and set the groundwork for future performances. Campers focus on stretching, technique, and learning individual and group dance choreography. The session culminates in an impressive performance for family and friends.

Additional funding will help Mahabir expand the staff and establish junior and senior dance companies. Indeed, she envisions “a lot of really good students going places” as she builds the academy’s growing scholarship fund, established in her father’s memory.

The Trinidad-born danseuse also has a soft spot for steel drum music and would like to compose a ballet set to the distinctive Caribbean beat.

Information: (760) 341-0122 www.desertyouthballet.org

Palm Springs Life

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